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Elements of Design: Ways to Create Fantastic Positive and Negative Space

SPACE…the final frontier…Ok, so that’s not the kind of space that we’re talking about, but it is OUR final element to explore and there is soooo much to explore, so let’s dive in! (Or perhaps spacesuit up…)

Anyway, with the previous elements (line, shape, color, value, texture, and form), it was somewhat easy to bridge a gap between the different disciplines of art that we’ve been exploring. Namely: digital art, graphic design, and photography. However, with space, it is going to look different in each of these disciplines. So I’ll do my best to describe the differences in a short and precise manner. (I’d hate to lose your attention along the way!)

First, let's attach a definition for space: the area above, around, or between the objects in the artwork, design or image. Easy enough, right?

In art and digital art (and possibly photography), it wouldn’t be right to talk about space without also speaking about depth. There are 5 ways to show depth within an artwork: overlap, perspective (linear or atmospheric), position, diminishing size, and detail. As we explore each of these briefly, we’ll be using an artwork by Alex Heywood

 

Space Blog: Overlap
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Overlap occurs when closer objects appear in front of those meant to be behind. In this image, the man is clearly in front of the scenery because he overlaps it. The red trees are clearly in front of the background because they overlap it.

 

Space Blog: Perspective
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Perspective can be either linear or atmospheric. Linear perspective is a drawing method that uses lines to create an illusion of space. In Heywood’s artwork we see the horizon line but since the scenery is more organic in nature, you don’t easily see any vanishing points or perspective lines. Atmospheric perspective ​​means that objects that are farther away tend to be cooler in color temperature and a lighter value. The artwork above clearly shows a lighter value and less intense colors between the trees near the front and the mountains in the background.

 

Space Blog: Position
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Position means that objects placed higher in the picture appear farther away. When you look at the feet of the man in the artwork above, you can see that they are lower than the path in front of him, and that is in front of the rock structure behind that.

 

Space Blog: Diminishing
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Diminishing size means that smaller objects appear farther away. In Heywood’s artwork, the top of the road that you see seems smaller than the road closer to the bottom of the artwork. In all probability, this road is like most roads in that it is the same width all the way up, but the road closer to the top appears smaller.

 

Space Blog: Detail
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Lastly, detail refers to the way that objects that are farther away have less detail. Notice how the mountains in the background compare to the rock formations toward the front of the page. There is much more line work and shading on the rock formations than there is on the mountains.

 


A graphic design would rarely display these 5 ways of showing space because this would require a good amount of detail. As you may know, great designs often thrive on simplicity, and detail is often the enemy of simplicity.

Photography, on the other hand, may have all these different methods, but it is not often the way in which space is explained and used. 

The one space term that is common in all three of these disciplines is positive vs negative space. Though it is used a bit differently in each discipline. The definition, however, is pretty much the same. Positive space is the “empty” space, while negative space is the “used” space (or the subject).

 

Space Blog: Alex Heywood man

In digital art, the artist wants to balance the positive and negative space effectively so that the viewer has enough detail to explore the scene (positive space), but enough negative space to let the eye rest. Look at the artwork by Alex Heywood one more time. In it, the sky represents the negative space while the foreground with the man, the rock formations and the trees make up the positive space. Heywood has chosen to devote about 70% of the space in the artwork to positive space and I think it works nicely for him.

 

Space Blog: Business card
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When talking about space in graphic design, we’re often talking about “white space”. A designer wants to have a good amount of white space around their design so that the message that they’re trying to convey is clear. In the business card above, there is plenty of space between the logo on the left and the contact information on the right. The white space between the two elements tells you that you have two different things to look at and leaves little room for confusion.

 

Space Blog: Elliot Erwitt
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Similar to digital art, the positive space in photography should be well balanced with the negative. Another thing that photographers might think about is the space in front of the subject. You want to have a good amount of space in front of the design so that the subject in the image has “a place to go” (figuratively, of course). In the image above, Elliott Erwitt has left plenty of space in front of the woman so as to allow us a chance to see what she is doing.

The discussion on space (both the galactic kind and the artistic kind) could go on for a lot longer as there is a lot involved in understanding how to use it in art, design, and photography. But since we don’t have all day, we’ll leave it here. ;) As with all the elements, just make sure you use space intentionally. Be aware of how much negative space is on the page and how it affects the subject in your artwork.

 

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